Tag Archives: Whistler/Ruskin Trial

The Falling Rocket

James Abbott MacNeill Whistler‘s beautiful 1874 ‘Nocturne: Black & Gold: The Falling Rocket‘ was one of the first paintings to make use of an abstract vocabulary of dribbles and splashes, as well as that of priming a canvas by staining with oil paint, as one would with a watercolour, all groundbreaking techniques in the 1880′s. The painting itself made headlines in 1875, when the most powerful art critic of the day, John Ruskin said of Whistler’s painting: “[f]or Mr. Whistler’s own sake, no less than for the protection of the purchaser, Sir Coutts Lindsay ought not to have admitted works into the gallery in which the ill-educated conceit of the artist so nearly approached the aspect of willful imposture. I have seen, and heard, much of Cockney impudence before now; but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.” To which Whistler sued Ruskin for libel, resulting in a very public trial and a double-edged triumph for Whistler; he won his point, that of the artist’s  freedom of vision and technique, but was awarded damages of a mere farthing, resulting in his bankruptcy and a move to Venice to recoup his fortune. Both Ruskin’s career and health declined rapidly and he left public life. With class prejudice and artistic interpretation of the day on trial, it’s a fascinating story in the history of art…

j.m. whostler, nocturne in Black and gold- the falling rocket 1875

Now living at Detroit Institute of Arts,  ’The Falling Rocket’ was one of a series of paintings, all made in the1870′s, depicting life on the Thames in London, not far from where Whistler lived. In the painting’s defence, he said, “By using the word ‘nocturne’ I wished to indicate an artistic interest alone, divesting the picture of any outside anecdotal interest which might have been otherwise attached to it. A nocturne is an arrangement of line, form and colour first”. The defence for Ruskin, Sir John Holker asked Whistler:

Holker: “Did it take you much time to paint the Nocturne in Black and Gold? How soon did you knock it off? “Whistler: “Oh, I ‘knock one off’ possibly in a couple of days – one day to do the work and another to finish it…”. Holker: “The labour of two days is that for which you ask two hundred guineas?”Whistler: “No, I ask it for the knowledge I have gained in the work of a lifetime.”

read about the case in detail at BranchCollective and here. Below, more of Whistler’s Nocturnes…

Nocturne: Blue and Gold, The Fire Wheel, 1875…

Nocturne: Black and Gold - The Fire Wheel 1875 by James Abbott McNeill Whistler 1834-1903

Nocturne: Blue & Silver, Cremorne Lights‘, 1872…

Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Cremorne Lights 1872 by James Abbott McNeill Whistler 1834-1903

Nocturne: Blue & Gold, Old Battersea Bridge‘, 1872-5…

Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge circa 1872-5 by James Abbott McNeill Whistler 1834-1903

Nocturne:Battersea Reach 1870-75…

whistler, nocturne-blue & silver, battersea reach

Nocturne: Grey and Gold, 1871-74

whistler, nocturne, grey and gold, 1871-74

Nocturne, 1870-77

whistler, nocturne 1870-1877

Nocturne: Blue and Silver, 1871…

whistler, nocturne, blue and silver 1871

and an 1878 lithograph (lithotint) of the  same subject…whistler, nocturne 1878

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